Mirror, mirror: Six Ways CIOs Can Polish Their Image

By Eva Marer

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Neil Barton's clients are rarely happy to see him. "When I'm called in, it's usually because the IT department is seen as dysfunctional and the image of the CIO is tarnished," says Barton, a senior consultant with Compass International, a global management consulting firm specializing in IT performance improvement for Fortune 1000 organizations, including such clients as Ford Motor Company, American Express, Ericsson and Volvo.

On the surface, says Barton, the problem is simple, at least in the eyes of the CEO: the IT department is either underperforming or costs are out of control. "Every CIO confronts the question, whether implicit or explicit, 'Why are we spending more for IT and what are we getting for our investment?'" In many cases, Barton admits, the IT department he's asked to analyze is slipping in relation to relevant benchmarks - outsourcers or other companies in similar industries.

CIOs as seen by CEOs
The main roles of the CIO, according to CEOs:
  • Provide systems to support business strategy,
  • Keep users and managers satisfied,
  • Run an economical IT operation,
  • Build a sound IT infrastructure,
  • Introduce relevant new technologies
  • Educate the CEO on IT trends.

Source: The World IT Strategy Compass Census 2000

Yet even CIOs who do meet targets are often perceived as underperforming, Barton says. That's partly because, unlike most other executive positions, CIOs must serve more than one master - all of them non-technical users. According to a survey Compass conducted last year, the majority of the 400 CEOs polled considered "keeping users and managers satisfied" among the CIO's top three priorities.

No wonder one sour anecdote can deflate your ego and cause the CEO to look your way askance. We all know that the squeaky wheel gets the oil - all the more reason to exert some elbow grease and polish your profile. Managing your image is always important in business. But in these tough times, it's especially important to counteract negative anecdotes with some positive spin of your own.

Eva Marer is a freelance business and technology reporter based in New York. She covers investments, personal finance and corporate technology issues for a variety of trade and consumer magazines. Contact her at egresspress@aol.com.